ZAN ZONE
It's Only Natural
(Randomaxe Records)

 

It’s Only Natural, the fourth album by Brooklyn-based rockers Zan Zone, features the music and vocals of band leader Zan Burnham. In the spirit of post-Americana bands like String Cheese Incident, band leader Zan gets excellent support from his Zan Zone band mates and his electric guitar work is first rate too. Blending, rock, jazz, blues and folk sounds, Zan Zone truly defies categories, and in doing so comes up with a highly entertaining combination of various musical styles. The lead off instrumental, “For The Rising Sun” is short but sweet and provides a solid intro to the eleven track CD. Hard to believe but Zan Zone has been going strong since the early 1990s and some astute listeners may remember the band’s 2013 double album called Shorts. Putting It's Only Natural into the special history of his band, Zan tells mwe3.com, “I’ve been focusing on original music since at least the early 1990s. Way back then, one of my back-up singers coined the name Zan Zone, and it’s been fun to use it since as a signpost and a shingle. While much of the time, I have been the primary lead singer, over the past few years, I’ve been lucky to have two amazing singers willing and excited to be a part of Zan Zone. As I’m the producer, it’s just been incredible to have Philip Dessinger and Sabrina Clery singing on so much of this album. Of course, I’m singing as well, along with my daughter, Arianna Burnham on a couple of songs. I really like group singing, and I notice that my vocal arrangements often seem to remind many people of the great 1960s vocal group, The Fifth Dimension and the Mama’s & the Papa’s, too.” In an era of downloads of mp3 files, one can only applaud Zan Zone and their superbly packaged album. The booklet is filled with eye-catching color photos and complete lyrics. With outstanding musicianship from a range of players and vocalists, It’s Only Natural is a must hear for fans of 21st century rock. www.zanzone.com


 

mwe3.com presents an interview with
Zan Burnham of ZAN ZONE


mwe3
: Can you tell where you’re from originally and what you like best about living in Brooklyn, what part of Brooklyn? Have you always lived in Brooklyn? I miss it! It’s so ironic that with the internet making everyone decentralized… it’s almost like it was predicted in the movie 2001, back in 1968, 50 years ago! We’re all lost in cyberspace!

Zan Burnham: I fled cyberspace for The Zone! The Zan Zone… Born in Manhattan, I actually started kicking and screaming in Queens, New York for five or six years until my parents decided the suburbs were the way to go. I’d say that was a mixed blessing. More space and woods; less social awareness... And a lot of bedroom dreaming…

Eventually, I lived in a bunch of places in the NY Tri-state area. I’ve been in Brooklyn since the mid 1990s, and it’s a very dynamic place to be. The train system, for all its faults, affords pretty flexible travel possibilities. Of course, lots of the rough edges and cool culture has been purged from NYC in recent decades, but then, everything is changing constantly, everywhere…

mwe3: What’s your favorite part of Brooklyn? I was born there but I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that Brooklyn is something like the fourth largest city in the US. I know we’ve spoken about Brooklyn before.

Zan Burnham: Well, a great writer once pointed out that ‘only the dead know Brooklyn’, as in it’s way too big to know it all. I’m in a moderately quiet nook. It’d be fun to be on a busy avenue, but I appreciate the little peace I do have in, as you say, the fourth biggest city in America. As far as cool clubs, shops, and funky people, I’d probably have to cite Williamsburg as my favorite part… but I don’t know if I want to live there! There are actually loads of amazing residential areas all over Brooklyn; regrettably, they’re also all quite expensive these days.

mwe3: How and when did Zan Zone as a band, come together? How many albums have you made and who are the key members of the band? You have some great singers in the band and you also sing so does having some great lead singers in the band allow you to focus on being the band leader and also on your guitar work? It’s all done to great effect, as your guitar work is excellent throughout the album.

Zan Burnham: Thanks for the shout-out about my guitar playing! I worked very, very hard on all of the guitar parts on the new album. I’ve been focusing on original music since at least the early 1990s. Way back then, one of my back-up singers coined the name Zan Zone, and it’s been fun to use it since as a signpost and a shingle. There have been years since the ‘90s when I did a bunch of live shows, and years where I just played solo, or only wrote and recorded. While much of the time, I have been the primary lead singer, over the past few years, I’ve been lucky to have two amazing singers willing and excited to be a part of Zan Zone. As I’m the producer, it’s just been incredible to have Philip Dessinger and Sabrina Clery singing on so much of this album. Of course, I’m singing as well, along with my daughter, Arianna Burnham on a couple of songs. I really like group singing, and I notice that my vocal arrangements often seem to remind many people of the great 1960s vocal group, The Fifth Dimension and the Mama’s & the Papa’s, too.

mwe3: Can you tell us something about your guitars that you play on It’s Only Natural and do you write the music on guitars? I saw the pic of your guitars in the CD booklet. (ed. see left) Very impressive indeed. Do you play other instruments as well?

Zan Burnham: I write almost exclusively on the guitar. I’ve been fortunate to accumulate a good dozen, or so, guitars all of which are wonderful tools to make music with. I can play piano well enough to be able to utilize a synthesizer in the studio, and I can play an acceptable bass guitar. But the only other “instrument” I really focus on is percussion. I use lots of percussion in the studio and I really like the colors it adds to the music.

mwe3: How did the new album take shapeand can you compare it to your early works? Are all your albums in print? Although these days in print means digital too. Tell us about the great album art and packaging for It’s Only Natural. It’s a great looking and a super sounding CD…

Zan Burnham: In 2013, I released the third Zan Zone album called Shorts. It was a collection of what I think of as interesting singer/songwriter “art” songs. I think a few of the recordings came out extremely well, and I remain quite happy with that project. However, the 3 female singers I’d used on that project, and there were a total of 19 players and singers combined, all moved away. I happened to ask a musician friend if he knew of any great female singers around, and he said you gotta check out Sabrina Clery, a Toronto native, who was in New York singing here and there. When I first walked in on a performance of hers, she was singing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”, a favorite song of mine, and we hit it off right away! And then, a singer and writer I’d worked with much earlier, who also sang one song on Shorts, Philip Dessinger, agreed to come on full time and thus, a new male/female singing duo was born! We’re still a few weeks away from our first performance with this line-up, but I think there’s gonna be explosions!

It’s Only Natural is Zan Zone’s fourth album. We have it, two other full albums, and an EP on CD Baby for sale. There’s also 1995’s Zan Zone CD floating around out there in cyberspace. Old as it is, it’s got some pretty cool stuff on it, so…

As far as the artwork is concerned, I have to say that I’ve had the great fortune to have a former band member, Jera Denny, who happened to also be an amazing graphic designer, helping me out with artwork since the 2005 Watchin’ The World EP. I’m also interested in visuals and design, and I contribute a good bit to the artwork, especially conceptually. I’ve been vegan for a long time, and for this latest project, since I had the song, “It’s Only Natural”, I turned it into the title song, and used concepts related to natural food, etc., to direct the theme. It was a lot of fun! On the front cover, we’re turnips; on the back, radishes. Some folks thought we were rocks on the cover, but hopefully most people will get the vegetable references!

The CD was mostly recorded at a great studio in Brooklyn, Atlantic Sound Studios. The engineer, Diko Shoturma has won Grammys, and he is incredible. He absolutely had a lot to do with the quality of the album, and especially his help with the mix. The lead guitars, most vocals and the percussion were recorded at my home studio, which allowed me unlimited time to get good sounds and performances on those parts. Almost every song started out with a live trio, and we eschewed click tracks to give the music a very “real” feel. While there’s usually always stuff any artist might change on a given recording, this one came out pretty damn good I think.

mwe3: The 2018 Zan Zone album It’s Only Natural starts off with an instrumental track called “For The Rising Sun”. What inspired that track and what kind of sound were you going for on that track? Would you consider doing more instrumentals? Do you like rock instrumental albums and artists as well?

Zan Burnham: “For The Rising Sun” was inspired by just what it seems. Dawn! Actually, I was in my dorm room, senior year in college, and my windows looked east. I was up early one late winter/early spring morning, and it just seemed and felt so good to see the sun rise. I picked up my guitar and I was able to capture my feelings. I’m pretty happy with the recording. To me, it’s kind of a very short example of stately jazz-rock fusion. I love doing instrumentals. I actually mostly listen to instrumental music at this point in my life, and I do have plans to do an all-instrumental album someday. Guitar oriented/pop oriented rock/r‘n’b instrumental music used to be something audiences dug, but it’s not heard that much these days. There also aren’t a ton of great rock instrumental albums, especially when compared to jazz offerings. And for anyone to come up with an album full of quality rock instrumentals like “Frankenstein”, or, say “Sleep Walk”, well, you’d have to be some kinda genius! Otherwise, it can all get a bit tedious. Jazz opens enough musical dimensions that it’s a natural for instrumentals, which also can include rock elements.

mwe3: The title track is a great rocker. Do you write songs from an autobiographical perspective? I think it’s the first song I ever heard with the words “GMO Free”. Is the song a put-on, spoof or what?

Zan Burnham: Well… yes! It is sort of a spoof. It’s certainly kind of tongue-in-cheek. It’s fun when you get on a lyric like this and you can start playing around with fun, relatable imagery like equating natural love with being GMO-Free! I definitely subscribe to the John Lennon/Joni Mitchell/Van Morrison school of writing about what you see, feel, know and learn… or try to.

mwe3: Is “Where There’s Smoke” a pro-pot song? I like the cover art pic for that track with the chili peppers. I still wish New York and Florida had the same cannabis laws as Colorado and California. Who is singing lead on that track?

Zan Burnham: Hmmmm… If this was 1968, I’d probably get busted for that song! But no, it’s not really about pot. It’s about a really good looking woman who’s been through some tough times, and has come out survivin’, struttin’ her stuff, and feeling good about herself and life… and also pushing things to the max, to the edge… lighting fires! Phil and Sabrina sing this as a duet. I like to think of them as kind of like a new Tom Jones and Tina Turner on this one!

mwe3: “He’s Coming Home” has a kind of Stax Records sound to it. Tell us something about “He’s Coming Home” and who’s singing it?

Zan Burnham: “He’s Coming Home” started life as “She’s Coming Home”. When Sabrina appeared on the scene, things changed quickly! But it’s still relates back to my personal experience. I was missing someone, and thinking about how Van Morrison gets to the heart of his feelings in lyrics when I wrote it; simple and clear. We also definitely went for an R‘n’B feel with the music, and I was also kind of trying to channel Jimi Hendrix with my response lines on the guitar to Sabrina’s voice. Everybody seems to like this song.

mwe3: “Here I Go Again” sounds like a late 1960s song. Sounds like everyone is singing on that one. Who’s singing lead, is that Phil? Is the song about the love of love or the fear of divorce? Again some great guitar work weaving through the grooves.

Zan Burnham: This is the only song on It’s Only Natural that I feel misses a little. I think we overdid the drum track and it’s all just a little too busy. That said, yeah… it’s Phil singing. He does a great job! And I was definitely going for a kind of 1960s Moody Blues thing here. The song is really about how, no matter one’s reticence, love can have such a powerful pull that it’s almost impossible to avoid at times, even though we know there can potentially be the great pain of a broken heart at the end… I particularly like the little vocal round thing we do at the end.

mwe3: Who’s singing “Mystery”? Sabrina and Phil? It has a kind of West Coast Mama’s And Papas sound to it. Is it folk-rock or? That guitar solo is excellent. Is the song an extension of “Here I Go Again” and is Phil singing lead on both tracks?

Zan Burnham: The singing on “Mystery” is by Sabrina, Phil, and myself. Again, this is another example of the boy/girl vocal group sound that I love. I think we did a pretty good job with this one! It’s really a two-chord song for a lot of it and I was actually kind of trying to write my own version of the Grateful Dead song “Dark Star”. But ultimately, It all remains a mystery...

mwe3: “Things That Make Me Cry” is a sad song. I just saw you wrote all the songs on the album. Is that a socially relevant song? Do you think these are times that make people cry more than usual?

Zan Burnham: Well, I actually do think loads of folks let certain kinds of emotions out, infrequently, and alone, quietly, at night. Sometimes, there’s things in the news, or in your personal experience, that eventually bubble up and when you’re in a private and un-vulnerable place, you might have all sorts of emotions come out. Laughter, anger and sometimes tears… The song isn’t meant to be only about sad things, though sadness can be an amazingly powerful feeling at times.

mwe3: I like the guest spot by Blind Lime Burnham on “Dem Blues Is Bad”. Is that your alter ego? What part do the blues play in your music and who are your biggest blues influences? Worried, broke and lonesome is a deadly combo. What’s worse love sick blues or broke blues? How can you make friends or peace with the blues?

Zan Burnham: Well, yes! Blind Lime Burnham is a kind of alter-ego, or a character I enjoy expressing. His appearance is likely not too “pc” these days, but Blind Lime is not shy! Woe be to he or she who challenges Mr. Lime’s right to exist! “Dem” is the colloquial form of “Them”. It fits Mr. Lime’s character to speak like that and I do so out of an almost reverential respect for the real old blues characters who I am attempting to channel. Blues is an essential element of a tremendous amount of the music from the past century.

“Dem Blues Is Bad” is what’s known as a “list song”. I go through a whole litany of foibles that can give one the blues. I think I covered a lot of kinds of blues in this song! But ultimately, the point is, that no matter what you do, eventually, you’re gonna get the blues, and the trick is to recognize it and somehow, find a way to accept it as part of life, and move on...

mwe3: “Let It Go” is a great rocker. Is that a way to get through the blues, just let it go? What a killer guitar solo! Is that you Zan? Sounds like a stockbroker, waking up before dawn to check out the Chinese stock market! Seems like the whole country is “gamblin’ your soul” these days. Who’s singing that track?

Zan Burnham: Actually, Philip helped write the lyrics on this one, and he was definitely thinking about a wall-street type guy. But, as these things go, it’s also reminding me of President Trump these days in a way. And yeah… wall street and our plutocratic government have set up an absolute culture of gambling. Wall street is really just a kind of casino. It’s a terrible way to run the economy and people’s economic lives. But no one’s asking me to come up with a better solution! I could try… That guitar solo was challenging to do because of the fast tempo. Keeps me up at night thinking about having to perform it live. I guess I just have to let it go! And yeah, Sabrina sings the you-know-what outta this number.

mwe3: “These Dreams” is excellent as well. Who’s on lead vocals and what does “the river” signify in the song? Sound like there's a Neil Young influence on the track. What’s the difference between a dream and a nightmare in your opinion?

Zan Burnham: Wow! I was thinking Neil Young on this song, both in the song itself and in the lead guitar. I sometimes refer to my guitar style as Neil-Young-On-Steroids! Phil wrenches his guts singing this one. The song came from an actual nightmare I had. I think the un-crossable river represents obstacles one faces. It’s pretty simple, but of course, in the dream state, it becomes gigantic and intimidating and scary. Nightmares are certainly dreams, but fortunately, at least for me, I have very few of them! They usually seem to happen when you’re under unusual stress or have outstanding issues still to be resolved.

mwe3: “Champagne Enthusiasm” starts off as a kind of 1950s pop song but then I realized it’s sort of a divorce blues kind of song. Is that pretty much the topic? Is that a woman speaking from her perspective?

Zan Burnham: Absolutely. It’s another empowerment song where the protagonist stands up for herself and says “I’m not going to take it any more”, and confidently moves on from an abusive relationship. It could be anyone’s perspective, but the main point is recognizing there’s a problem and doing something about it!

mwe3: So you have this great new album out now. What are the odds that a million people will pick up on it and give it a listen? Seems like there’s a lot of great rock and pop artists still being overlooked these days. How can you improve the odds in your favor and what are you looking forward to as we steamroll towards 2019?

Zan Burnham: It’s very rare that anyone, in any field, is able to get attention without someone having spent a lot of promotional dollars. It can and does happen that someone or some thing breaks out, goes viral, and all that. But then, a few people win the lottery, too. My perception is, is that unless an artist is tied into the regimented corporate culture, there’s little chance of being heard on a grand scale. Sure, there are niches; there are artists who have found a workable approach to making a living; and there are some very lucky individuals who are all over the media for quite questionable work. I’m not very conducive to fitting in with corporate culture, which might ultimately doom Zan Zone’s chance of being known by more than a handful of fans and music aficionados. But you never know. We’d certainly love to be given an opportunity to impress the masses. But we won’t sell our souls.

And then there’s always the absurd ideas, like crashing through the gates of the White House, planting a Zan Zone sign on the lawn, and making a hasty exit! How could we not get loads of publicity from that… and maybe a jail term… or get shot! Of course, what sounds good on paper… But right now, myself and the band are focused on rehearsing and getting our new show together. Sometime this autumn, we should be gigging in the New York City area. It’s currently a 5 piece, although we may be adding another player in the near future. The band is really excellent, Philip and Sabrina are incredible singers, and I’m really, really, expecting this group to blow people’s minds...




 

 
   
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